Letters from the dorm: Walking where Jane Austen walked

Letters from the dorm: Walking where Jane Austen walked

Junior Reporter
An English Literature student in London who loves art, cinema, and travel, Emily enjoys writing about her new experiences and discoveries.

This semester, I am studying a module named "Jane Austen in Context". On this course we read all six of Jane Austen's novels. We also read some of her early works and some of her letters.

To understand her work, it's important to understand the context. This means understanding the society that Austen lived and worked in. That society was quite different to today's.

Austen lived from 1775 to 1817. To understand more about what life was like for people back then, my classmates and I were lucky enough to be able to go to Chawton, in Hampshire. This is where Austen lived for the final eight years of her life.

We first visited Chawton House, an Elizabethan manor in Chawton. It belonged to Edward Austen Knight, Jane's brother. He had inherited the Chawton estate from some distant cousins.

Imagine my excitement when I got to see and touch a table at which Austen would have sat!

We also got to dress up in period costumes - men wore pea coats and women wore empire-waist dresses.

We tried doing some dancing, too - the sort that you see in films, such as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, both based on Austen's books. It was a lot of fun.

The dancing was mostly just walking towards and away from your partner, clapping to beats, holding hands and circling. It was very civilised!

After a brisk walk in the lovely grounds of Chawton House, we went to Chawton Cottage.

The cottage is now known as Jane Austen's House Museum. In 1809, Edward gave this cottage as a gift to his mother and sisters, Jane and Cassandra Austen.

The rooms at the cottage were all decorated to imitate Austen's time. They even had copies of her writing desk and manuscripts!

When Jane Austen arrived at Chawton, she had written drafts of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Northanger Abbey. She actually got the three novels published while at Chawton, and it was also here that she wrote her other three novels, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion.

It was fascinating to see the house where Austen lived and wrote a lot of her novels.

Some might say that it was in this house that Austen changed the form of the English novel, from a literary point of view.

The trip to Chawton was one of the most memorable experiences in my university life here, especially because I got to explore Austen's life and house with friends who share my enthusiasm for her (and Mr Darcy)!

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Walking where Austen walked

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